Along with other right-wing hate groups, neo-Nazis have drawn on the rhetoric of conspiracy to frame their analysis of global and U.S. politics. Although overshadowed by the stronger tradition of the religious Right in the United States, various neo-Nazi organizations contributed to the wider cluster of antisemitic and white supremacist groups.
During the 1920s the National Socialists asserted that the German military had been victorious on the battlefield in World War I, but that Jewish traitors in the government had stabbed Germany in the back, even as international Jewish financiers prepared to loot the German economy. According to the Nazi myth, the German Volk was engaged in a metaphysical struggle against materialist “Jew-Capitalists” and “Jew-Bolshevists,” both of which sought to destroy the Volkish community by fostering social inequalities and encouraging class conflict. The cosmopolitan city was characterized as a cesspool, festering with immorality and crime, where Jewish conspirators poisoned the hearts and minds of the Volk. The Nazis promised to free German society from economic depression and class conflict by establishing a racialist community under the leadership of a divinely inspired leader. Nazi propagandists operating in the United States emphasized these same themes, but they met with little success. Appeals to isolationist, anticommunist, and racist sentiment failed to bring about any substantive alliance with U.S. antisemitic or white supremacist organizations.
After World War II, most U.S. racists remained rooted in Republican and populist traditions, which rejected socialism and dictatorship. A number of very small Nazi groups did exist, however, with the American Nazi Party (ANP), founded by George Lincoln Rockwell in 1958, being the most influential. ANP conspiracy theory fused crude negrophobia with conspiratorial antisemitism: Jewish communists were believed to be spearheading the civil rights movement in the South and enticing black men to rape white women and riot in northern cities. Party publications were rife with crude jokes about African American culture and political aspirations, while providing detailed descriptions of conspiratorial machinations by Jews. Party activists drove through the U.S. South in their Hate Bus, and picketed screenings of Exodus and performances of The Deputy, which criticized papal policies during World War II. At antiwar rallies later in the decade, Rockwell’s Nazis threw paint, eggs, beer cans, and garbage at antiwar demonstrators, provoking violent confrontations. Such theatrics created notoriety unwarranted by any substantive threat that the ANP posed, either to democratic institutions or the advance of civil rights.
Rockwell’s greatest success occurred in summer 1966, when the ANP agitated against Martin Luther King, Jr.’s housing desegregation marches in Chicago. For twenty-two days, ANP activists inflamed race relations, generating intense publicity. More than 1,000 local residents pelted civil rights marchers with bricks and bottles, shouting “White Power!” and waving Confederate and Nazi flags (Oates, 413). Once the protests ended and tensions subsided, however, the Nazis lost what little support they had gained during the melee. Ignoring this fact, Rockwell shifted gears in 1967, renaming his party the National Socialist White People’s Party (NSWPP). Attempting to broaden the appeal to non-Aryan whites, he abandoned Nazi iconography and launched a new magazine entitled White Power! Rockwell also became more militant, declaring that “every tendency towards degeneracy and subversion . . . must be weeded out and utterly destroyed” (Rockwell).
The Chicago emergence of Black Power and New Left militancy also provided a context for Rockwell’s increased militancy. Another reason, however, was that Rockwell feared for his safety and was suspicious of his own followers, believing many of them to be spies for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B’nai B’rinth. The ADL did investigate the ANP, and two other Jewish groups had discussed Rockwell’s commission with the naval reserve in 1961, before Rockwell was discharged. Rockwell was made understandably paranoid, however, by a highly effective FBI covert action program entitled cointelpro-White Hate Groups. Between 1965–1971, FBI agents cut off financial support, even as informants sowed dissension. Federal, state, and local authorities also created disruption: the Internal Revenue Service conducted tax investigations, city inspectors closed Nazi offices, and local and state police made disorderly conduct arrests.
On 25 August 1967 a sniper assassinated George Lincoln Rockwell. Former Stormtrooper editor John Patler was convicted of the murder, but in the context of an ensuing struggle for power, a number of conspiracy theories were put forth by Rockwell’s lieutenants. The victorious faction offered that Patler was an ADL agent and named California Nazi James K. Warner as his coconspirator. Warner alleged that Matt Koehl and William Pierce had engineered a coup to elevate Rockwell to martyrdom and seize control of the party. Accusations and counteraccusations even led to an internecine gunfight. Decrying “illegal FBI harassment,” Warner left the NSWPP, telling Nazis loyal to him to prepare for “Armageddon, the meeting of the forces of good and evil and the complete destruction and death of all the mongrel hordes and their Jewish masters” (American Nazi Party, 2).
Warner also charged that El Monte, California, party organizer Ralph Forbes had used the NSWPP as a recruiting ground for religious cults. Rockwell, having met with Christian Identity minister Wesley Swift in June 1964, had recognized the power of theological antisemitism for recruitment purposes, and several of his close associates, including Forbes, later became Identity ministers. Even Warner came to recognize Identity’s potential, and established an Identity Church in 1975. He also organized a paramilitary group and helped former Nazi David Duke create the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Matthias Koehl took over the NSWPP and in 1967 published a more militant ten-point platform calling for “revolution.” Quoting Adolph Hitler to the effect that the survival of the race had become more important than respect for law and order, NSWPP editor William Pierce and a group of younger Nazis launched a youth group, which became one of the most violent neo-Nazi groups of the early 1970s. The National Socialist Liberation Front (NSLF) called for a “militant struggle” against the “pigs” to “build a popular base.” The NSLF formulated an early version of the leaderless resistance tactics that would animate the violent neo-Nazi cells of the early 1980s. In 1971 William Pierce called for a revolution by “guerrilla fighters.” He published bomb-making instructions, discussions of urban warfare techniques, and lists of targets for political assassination. Later, Pierce wrote The Turner Diaries, an apocalyptic novel about race war. The plot inspired a white power cell called the Order, which committed armored car robberies and murdered a Jewish talk show host in the early 1980s. Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh also seems to have found the novel provocative. Pierce’s associate, Willis Carto, became active in the Holocaust denial movement, publishing essays that presented the Nazi genocide as a fabrication by Communist-Zionist plotters. His Spotlight newspaper, which dwelled on conspiratorial plots by international bankers and federal agents, would influence the militia movement during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Despite extensive propagandizing and publicity, Nazis have failed to gain a substantial following in the United States. This, combined with disruption by law enforcement during the 1960s, encouraged some of them to embrace terror, paramilitarism, alliances with other racist groups, and a revolutionary agenda. With his revolutionary call for white power, George Lincoln Rockwell had facilitated ideological cross-pollination between National Socialism, white supremacy, and Christian Identity. Although membership in formal National Socialist groups declined after the late 1970s, militant hybrid associations such as the Aryan Nations, the White Aryan Resistance, the National Alliance, and the Mountain Church would all revere Adolph Hitler and George Lincoln Rockwell as founders of the White Power movement.
See also: Antisemitism; Aryan Nations; Ku Klux Klan; Pierce, William L.
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